The Fifth Exhibition and Colloquium of Digital Art :: Irene Hanenbergh

16th-20th June 2003 Havana, Cuba

From the 16th of June to the 20th of June, I attended the V Salon Y Coloquio Internacional de Arte Digital (Fifth Exhibition and Colloquium of Digital Art) in Havana, Cuba at the Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Brau.

The conference and exhibitions were very well organized from start to finish and the staff at the Cultural Centre Pablo de la TorrienteBrau were extremely helpful in assisting my attendance and for all general arrangements.

Artists from 39 countries as well as artists from the host nation were presented in the exhibitions in eight exhibition spaces: CentroPablo (Pablo Center), Casa de la Poes’a (House of Poetry), Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Center for the Development of the Visual Arts), Fototeca de Cuba (Cuban Photograph Library), Galer’a Carmen Montilla, Galer’a Servando Cabrera Moreno del ICAIC (ICAIC«sServando Cabrera Moreno Gallery) and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum).

The International Colloquium of Digital Art is a forum for critical discussion, and papers and presentations by artists were discussed in round tables and lectures. The conference provided a great setting for the exchange of criteria about digital art and its perspectives, focusing mainly on communication in art (the artist and the word).

The event itself was an intense week of presentations, exhibitions, screenings, networking and discussions. All attendees tried very hard to fit in as much of the schedule as they could in the very little time available. In the same time we were all very eager to explore (in almost daily-tropical storms) the complex history, vibrant culture and people of Havana.

Participants also engaged in an extensive range of media and arts practices. At the event I had the opportunity to meet with a number of artists working in media and subject matter varying from internet dating and performance art to hologram techniques; from print based work to a range of animation, interactive and video techniques and concepts. Interesting presentations at the festival itself were many including:

Heather D. Freeman (USA) on Internet dating services and Dating and art. Her paper, New languages, new themes: virtual love and the new romanticism and her presentation were extremely engaging. What fascinated me was probably her very honest and detailed emotional description of the impact of advanced technology on one’s personal love life.

Andrea Botero (Finland-Colombia) presented the Artistic Explorations for a Poetic Design Practice: the game of imaginary beings that related to the games of the early surrealists – The Exquisite Corpse. This game of imaginary beings produces wonderful imagery along with generated random and poetic texts. In her presentation she also touched upon the concept of how language – or one’s acquired (foreign) language – frames your thoughts and therefore the work you create. Therefore, the same work – thought through by the same artist in English, Spanish or any other language will develop differently according to the language used in the design process. A quite obvious thought, but I felt strongly involved with this idea since I personally work and think mostly in two foreign languages and one mother tongue. I found that Andrea Botero’s statement resonated strongly with me and I believe it is an approach to be incorporated in the production process.

Greg Giannis (Aus). This talk on generative art and ‘seeing’ sound – Phonoscopy – was fascinating and informative. Greg uses programmatic processes to generate work: previously (site specific) recorded sound is translated into digital visuals and output as hardcopy prints.

Geraldine Gallavard (France) creates and publishes CDs as song-diaries – using sound to compile block-notes of every day life. More than producing a slick-finished sound CD, the content of the work conveys family relationships and nostalgia on underlying electronic beats using low-tech sound-software applications.

The Millefiore Effect (USA) presented Front v3.0 (voice activated inflatable conflict suits). The Millefiore Effect are three collaborating artists from The New York University Interactive Communications Program. In short Front v3.0 consists of two lightweight wearable suits that both contain offensive and defensive inflatable air sacs. When the participants growl or sing, their own offensive sacs inflate, along with the other participant’s defensive sacs. If both players are loud enough, both suits will be entirely inflated. When the players are quiet, the suits deflate.

Lauri Burrier (USA) presented Waterstreet that comprised gigantic prints on vinyl exhibited site-specifically in NYC as a flowing river in a downtown NY street. In one of the discussions, Lauri talked about how TV sets and home theatre systems provide an opportunity to screen video art in the every-day-home environment. She explained the ease with which collections of video and digital works can grow when nearly everyone has a screen-space (hooked up to VCR or DVD player) to display art. Lack of physical space to store or maintain an art collection can’t be an excuse anymore.

Attending this event offered me – as an artist – benefits that are many and varied and will manifest themselves in many different ways and for a long time after my return. Additional to the event, the location of Havana offered an incredibly visually rich and magical place from which to be inspired. It is impossible to not let the city, the people, its culture and architecture, completely take over your senses.

I was fortunate enough to establish many new professional contacts with Cuban and other international artists and possible future joint-projects with some of the participating artists were discussed. Some plans have taken off further since my return to Australia. One of them is a joint project with a small group of Brazilian video makers and we are discussing the possibility of an exchange screening of video works.

I also had the opportunity to visit Cuban artists in their studios which was interesting because discussions usually take a different turn when not in a public space and it becomes a lot easier talking about political, religious and social issues and the effects they have on artists when exhibiting work.

One of my videos was presented in Gallery Carmen Montilla and additionally all videos and interactive work were accessible on terminals throughout the festival locations. By participating in the exhibition and attending the conference, I received valuable critical feedback from fellow artists. It gave me the ability to respond directly to questions and discuss ideas further.

The work exhibited at the festival exhibitions and also in other galleries and museums in Havana (in particular at the Wifredo LamCentre) were visually challenging. A lot of times I had the feeling of slipping out of the real world and into a fantasy one – a surreal kind of feeling I very much enjoyed. This was most likely due to my love of imaginary places, tale telling and historically defined symbolism. An important part of my work is based upon storytelling/mythology and collecting symbolic imagery and local folk-tales was one of my aims. The opportunity to travel to Cuba allowed me to gather quite a few.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to have been part of this festival. It was a rewarding experience and it enabled me to gain insight into alternative viewpoints in art and technology and to extend my professional network. The support from ANAT was greatly appreciated.

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